The first Nacogdoches business to shut its doors because of the coronavirus pandemic reopened this week.
Chilly Fillmore’s Frozen Yogurt on North Street reopened two months after issuing a plea for customers to come take the last of its stock of tasty desserts for free on March 18.
“We’re officially back up and running,” said owner Brian Donlinger.
Since opening in 2011, Chilly Fillmore’s had only been closed a handful of times other than holidays — here and there for a broken air conditioner or a power outage.
“It’s been two months and we just really need to get back open,” Donlinger said.
Though the business closed, Donlinger was able to secure funding through the Payroll Protection Act with the help of Francis Spruiell and Dustin Beavers at Austin Bank. Those funds helped keep his business afloat in the interim, but reopening has presented new challenges. Donlinger had to hire and train an almost entirely new group of workers.
“Every one of my employees is a college student and very few of them actually live full-time in Nacogdoches,” he said.
The same is true for other businesses, especially restaurants along North Street near the Stephen F. Austin State University Campus. SFA closed its campus at the direction of Gov. Greg Abbott, and most of its more than 13,000 students went home to places like Houston and Dallas.
“The school is the nucleus of the town. A lot of the businesses here including myself wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the university,” Donlinger said.
Many restaurants remained open with only drive-thru, curbside and delivery services after Abbott shuttered dining rooms in an executive order. As students left town, the demographics of restaurant staff seemingly changed overnight. Drive-thru windows once occupied by twenty-somethings taking payments and handing out bags of food were quickly restaffed with older workers.
Without a drive-thru and with his solid customer base of SFA students and employees, Donlinger chose to close up shop.
“I could see the writing on the wall that there was going to be action taken and things were going to get shut down,” he said.
Now Chilly Fillmore’s is operating on a to-go model. All employees are wearing masks, and customers can come in and pick out their yogurt and toppings to take home. Customers who don’t want to come into the business can place a curbside order with up to three toppings for a fixed cost.
Some businesses around the country have expressed worry over litigation related to the virus as they reopen.
“I’m not worried personally, but I can see how other businesses would be concerned about the liability,” Donlinger said.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn this week spoke on the senate floor in favor of legislation that would offer liability protection to business, churches and schools as they reopen.
“Even if businesses and hospitals follow all the relevant guidelines and act in good faith, they could end up fighting a very long and a very expensive lawsuit,” Cornyn said. “They could end up winning that lawsuit, but they could also end up going bankrupt in the process.”